Athletic Academics

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"For us, sports is a carrot," says Peter Thyrring, Headmaster of the tiny-"but with big results" -St. Peter's ACHS College School in Vaughan, Ontario. "The harder the boys work academically, the more sports and play we give them-everything from ball hockey to tackle-football.

"It could be mid-winter, 50-below, and they still want to go out and play. We didn't have a single kid sick last winter. Germs don't like the cold."

St. Peter's has only 30 students-all boys, Junior Kindergarten to Grade 8-and three teachers.

Three students, Nicholas, 10, Giorgio, 12, and Anthony, 12, are members of the school's hockey team, a combination of Grades 4, 5 and 6.

"But they've done well," says Thyrring. "They'll sometimes play four or five games a day, but they've made it three times to tournament finals."

So they must be pretty good?

"Yeah," says Nicholas. "I guess."

And keeping up with school work isn't a problem?

"We finish it on time," says Giorgio.

"But we do a lot, eh?" says Anthony. "Six or maybe 10 pages of math."

"It's hard," says Nicholas.

"But good," says Giorgio.

"Yeah," says Nicholas.

History's an important subject-"We've done Napoleon and Julius Caesar," says Giorgio-as is science.

"By Grade 4, an average kid can tell you every bone in the body," says Thyrring.

"We can tell you most of them," Anthony says.

"The main ones," says Giorgio.

Thyrring says students from other schools like to visit "just to play. We've told the kids, 'No problem, but you have to produce academically.'"

"We all play soccer, too," says Nicholas. "But only if we study hard."

This holistic approach has also paid dividends at Newbridge Academy in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia, says Headmaster Cliff Johnston.

"What we're really about is mind, body and spirit," he says. "(Students) become much more open to the concept of learning and they just naturally end up with better academic success. Physiologically, they're in a much better position to use their minds when they've had some physical balance to the day."

Grant MacDonald's daughters, Hannah, 15, and Chloe, 12, attend Newbridge. Both are in the school's hockey program, he says, and sport "has become part of their daily life. It has made them more focused. They're both doing very well academically.

"Phys-ed has been dropped by a lot of schools. It's regarded as not as important as academic work," MacDonald says, "But a healthy child is a smarter child. Every day they should be getting exercise."

Johnston says that the school's "natural" emphasis on English, science and math is complemented by activities "where students develop passion" such as dance, music, languages and drama.

Newbridge Academy is in its third year. In sports, Johnston says, the school began with a bread-and-butter hockey program, but has added new programs for team sports, such as basketball and soccer, as well as for gymnastics, and core fitness.

"For next year, we're adding a training program for individual sports like figure skating, swimming and diving. We've also added a program called Active Living for life skills such as problem-solving, logic, critical thinking, bullying and conflict-resolution."

The program also includes goal-setting, both in sports and academics, and, Johnston says, "passions-hobbies, pursuits out of school, things they've never tried."

When a passion for sports motivates a student academically, it can lead to many unforeseen opportunities. "In the last four years, our graduating classes have won scholarships totaling in excess of $5 million," says Dave Kenney, director of admissions at Athol Murray College of Notre Dame in Wilcox, Saskatchewan. "For 75 to 80 graduating students to be receiving that kind of money is a phenomenal success story."

The school's philosophy, Kenney says, goes all the way back to the ancient Greek philosopher Plato: "He said that to develop fully as a human involved the mind, body and spirit. We attract kids who are driven and want to excel in sports and academics."

The Notre Dame Hounds, as the school team is called, play hockey, football, soccer, rugby, lacrosse, basketball, volleyball, baseball, badminton and golf.

Often, Kenney says, a student will come specializing in one sport and wind up excelling in another. He cites his son Quinn, a hockey nut who "had never seen a rugby ball when he started here.

"He's going to the Royal Military College of Canada on a rugby scholarship and is also competing at the Canada Summer Games."

Clayton Johnston, Director of Admissions at Brentwood College School in Mill Bay, British Columbia, talks about a "unique tripartite program".

Students study six mornings each week, followed by an afternoon of sport or fine arts. He says Brentwood has excellent hockey and rugby programs, but is also "one of the world's top rowing schools."

"We know athletes are disciplined in time-management," Johnston says.

On the arts side, students can do everything from painting to photography, join the orchestra or a rock band.

Blake Gage teaches financial accountancy and entrepreneurship at the school, coaches basketball and is a house parent to 50 boarders. "That involves most of my life," Gage says.

Brentwood's annual regatta in April, which attracts thousands of visitors, is a perfect opportunity to meld sports and academics. Gage's Grade 12 entrepreneurship students have to create business plans and run a business during regatta week-everything from noodle stalls to a henna-tattoo parlour and a photography studio, he says.

Gage loves Brentwood's tripartite approach. "It keeps the kids active and engaged. The academic mornings are fairly rigorous, but in the afternoons, most kids are able to develop a passion.

"Sport absolutely has a beneficial effect on learning. Any time you're involved in sports, you're working with a team, co-operating with others and learning self-discipline."

The biggest problem Andrew Butler found moving to Brentwood in Victoria, British Columbia was that having mornings devoted to academics meant that lunch was later than he was used to.

"So I'd found myself getting hungry," he says. "Otherwise, it has never been a problem."

Andrew, who spent Grades 11 and 12 at the school, is heading next to the University of Washington in Seattle to study oceanography and to row.

He'd done a little rowing when he was younger but didn't take it up seriously until he went to Brentwood. He competes in everything from single-sculls to eight-man boats. "I wish I'd come to the school earlier to get more of the experience," he says. "The biggest thing it's given me is a perspective of what I can do in the world.

"Now I have more idea of what the world can offer me in further education, a career and, of course, rowing," says Andrew. "And it's a bigger world for me. It really is the whole world. I didn't realize that before."

—Bill Taylor
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